By Iulia Leilua:
2024 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples.
The call for a strong Pacific voice in government came from Pacific communities and advocates after the economic shocks of the 1970s. The impacts were felt across New Zealand society but Pacific peoples were among those hit hardest in areas such as jobs and housing.
In 1984, the newly elected Labour government established a unit for Pacific Island Affairs within the Department of Internal Affairs, and later it sat under the auspices of the Department of Māori Affairs. When I first became a journalist for Tagata Pasifika at TVNZ in 1987, I can remember visiting their offices on Karangahape Rd and later in Ōtāhuhu and Manukau. Prime Ministers and CEOs came and went, but the Ministry soldiered on.
That was until last August, when ACT leader David Seymour pledged before the elections to abolish the Ministry for Pacific Peoples. The catalyst was news of lavish spending by the Ministry on a $40,000 farewell party and four post-budget breakfast events costing $53,500.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has since emphasised that the Ministry will stay, but there are no Pacific MPs in Government and Dr Shane Reti is now the Minister for Pacific Peoples. (He is not the only Māori to hold this position. Dame Georgina Te Heuheu was Minister for Pacific Peoples from 2008 to 2011 and Hekia Parata from 2011 to 2014.
An Uncertain Future
As Pacific communities in New Zealand wait to hear the future of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, one question hangs in the air: will the Ministry stand strong?
As someone who has watched the progress of the Pacific Ministry, first under Richard Prebble (1987-1988, 1990) and later people like Sir Don McKinnon (1991 – 1998), Vui Mark Gosche (1999 – 2003), Luamanuvao Winner Laban (2007 – 2008) and Aupito Su’a Viliamu Sio (2017 – 2023), it is inconceivable the Ministry would be abolished.
The Ministry for Pacific Peoples is the backbone of advocacy for Pacific communities. It ensures our unique voices and perspectives are heard at the highest levels of government. Issues like housing, education, and healthcare, where Pacific peoples often face disparities, get a dedicated platform with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples. Without it, these critical concerns risk being lost in the shuffle of general priorities.
Laying the Foundation For Empowered Generations
By prioritising education, skills development, and economic opportunities for Pacific peoples, the Ministry lays the foundation for empowered generations to come. The Ministry is entrusted with significant resources to address these challenges which demands meticulous stewardship. If budget and staffing cuts are planned, let it not be to the detriment of its ability to help Pacific peoples thrive and flourish.
With its current CEO now one year into the job, I would love to see her and her team demonstrate real, tangible outcomes that empower Pacific communities and bridge the socioeconomic disparities they face.
Surely the dream of the Pacific communities and leaders who advocated for this institution all those years ago.
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